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Costa Walking A Tightrope

Diego Costa

Chelsea forward Diego Costa has been one of the buys of the season. His £32m move from Atletico Madrid always looked like a good bit of business by Jose Mourinho but the seventeen goals that he has scored in the Premier League already have shown just how shrewd the ‘Special One’ is.

Whilst Manchester United were willing to pay huge sums to attract big names like Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao, Mourinho was more measured in his approach and worked to make small changes to his already well-functioning team.

Missing Goals – After Chelsea narrowly missed out on the title last season, it was widely discussed by experts at the likes of blue square, that all that Chelsea were really missing was goals. In Cesc Fabregas, Mourinho found a man to create chances for his team. In Costa, he found a man to finish those chances. And he managed to keep the books balanced in the process.

Hidden Qualities – Given his goalscoring record it is easy to forget what else Costa brings to the Chelsea team; his work-rate and abrasiveness are two qualities that are often overlooked. Costa worries defences and draws attention away from his team-mates. He is also willing to stay on his feet and hold the ball up in order to create chances. The 26-year-old gets under defenders’ skin and is not willing to let them have things their own way. It is this quality that sets him apart but could also make him a target for referees.

Walking a Tightrope – Over the course of two legs of the Capital One Cup semi-final against Liverpool, Costa reportedly squared up to Jordan Henderson in the tunnel and could have been sent off twice for two ugly stamps at Stamford Bridge. The Spanish international will claim that they were accidental but individual referees would view the incidents differently. There is no doubt that some would have given him his marching orders. Regardless of whether Costa avoids retrospective punishment following the Liverpool game (He has been charged by the FA), he will be watched closely when he takes to the field from now on. Costa must learn where to draw the line if he is to continue to contribute so effectively to Chelsea’s season.

Diego Costa is now walking a tightrope! Jose Mourinho and the Chelsea support will be desperate for him not to fall off.

Forget All The Drama Diego Costa Is Dirty But Effective And Best EPL Striker

-Diego_Costa

Wait are we all trying to suggest we didn’t know what kind of player Diego Costa was before he arrived in Britain?

No, we all knew he was an aggressive warrior that would punish defenders all game with hard, robust challenges. He was always going to be walking on the wild-side.

Against Liverpool last night Costa was in no mood for playing friendly but in fairness no one should expect Costa to run around handing out flowers to opponents. He plays to his strengths which is being strong and clinical in and around the box. He works hard, is deceptively quick and is a determined figure on the park.

He also has a nasty streak and gets under the oppositions skin with his aggressive style and getting in their faces. In Spain they use the term ‘Mala Leche’ (Bad milk) to describe players like Costa. It means that they are players that play with an edge. I love that phrase and it sums up Diego Costa perfectly.

The Spanish forward is the type of player that opposition fans love to hate and that his own teams fans cherish close to their hearts.

I can’t really understand the up-roar and drama that his performance against Liverpool seems to have caused in the press and on social media.

The witch-hunt to see the forward punished for his stamps on Emre Can and Martin Skrtel looks a bit petty to me. Having seen the challenges a number of times I find it hard to say for certain that he deliberately went in to stand on the Liverpool duo. It’s extremely hard to analyse these types of incidents and determine intent. Yes Costa has previous with Liverpool and Skrtel in particular but that doesn’t mean we assume guilt on this occasion. When you have a powerful forward and an equally determined defender come up against each other then limbs intertwine and people collide with each other. If your eyes are on the ball (Costa’s seemed to be) then you can tread on opposing defenders if they are underfoot, its a fact of playing competitive football.

Now I am not going full Jose Mourinho and state he definitely didn’t mean it but my point is that it’s extremely difficult to prove that he meant it.

I find the Liverpool fans reaction slightly bewildering as former hero Luis Suarez was the exact same in terms of niggling challenges and a determined spirit. They would forgive the Uruguayan anything, yet can’t see the similarities in Costa’s style. But hey-ho football fans are fickle and have heavily tinted spectacles.

I am all for judging using TV replays as long as its across the board. Costa should have been awarded a penalty last night but wasn’t. Plus an argument could be made that Skrtel shouldn’t have been playing after his elbow on Diego in the first leg. Plus why are we not commenting of Englishman Steven Gerrard’s use of his head against Costa last night? Is it one rule for one and not the other?

To be honest I have no problem with just leaving it to the ref and how he controlled the two games. It all evened its self out in my opinion.

Now I am not a Chelsea fan but I have enjoyed watching Diego Costa this season. He’s brought that edgy style that just pisses off every person that comes up against him. The hitman has a no-nonsense game and that includes scoring plenty of goals. There isn’t another forward of his ilk in the English game and defenders are still trying to get to grips with him (quite literally).

So I hope that the FA don’t rush in and charge the player and ban him for the league’s biggest game this season as it would be unjust and taint the Chelsea Man City encounter.

Of Course Sunday’s Game Is An Old Firm Fixture

Oldfirm

 

So unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ll know Rangers and Celtic will face off on Sunday at Hampden. The papers and websites have been full of nothing else in Scotland.

Now there is a debate raging on about this fixture; is it an Old Firm match or is this the first meeting between the two clubs as Rangers are a new club?

Well for me, and this is my opinion, it is obviously an Old Firm tie.

My view was cemented when a group of Celtic fans purchased an advert in Sunday’s Herald newspaper (below) explaining in great detail why this to them is a new fixture.

herald ad

 

All in all they make some decent points. But alas when you hear the other side, Rangers fans will make valid points of their own.

The phrase that comes to mind when viewing this ad is ‘doth protest too much, methinks’.

This advert to me highlights whats needed to be an Old Firm fan; be somewhat sensible, extremely paranoid and completely obsessed with rivals across the city.

The truth is this, if this fixture on Sunday meant absolutely nothing and had no history then we wouldn’t have seen this advert and Celtic fans wouldn’t be so obsessed with the blue half of Glasgow.

Former Celtic manager Neil Lennon and ex-Celtic striker Kenny Dalglish gave their thoughts and both stated that they believe that this fixture is indeed an Old Firm game as far as they are concerned. That has caused Rangers fans to rejoice and Celtic ones to say they only did it to protect themselves from ‘bullets and bombs’ being delivered in the post.

The fact is in Glasgow we just can’t agree to disagree. We always have to have arguments and mainly about football.

Now why do I believe that this match has history?

Well I look at the other end of the argument and it leaves me a bit cold.

Are we letting business accounts and company names dictate our footballing history? Business has been encroaching on our sport pretty much since it was invented. But as fans we usually stand together to fight against it or at least moan about it like TV kick off times, strip prices and potential sponsors (i.e. Wonga).

But unfortunately in the case of Glasgow football fans, they use any situation to get one over the other; from religious beliefs to child abuse to liquidation. There seems to be no lines that can’t be crossed in this rivalry.

I have no problem with the Celtic fans advert (The idea was certainly not supported by all Hoops fans). I do think it’s slightly embarrassing for them and a waste of money. I have an issue with its timing. To do it on the same day 41,000 turned up in Govan to show support for Fernando Ricksen was in poor taste. That day showed Rangers on the park and in the stands have history!

Now that Ricksen tribute match also showed us the better side of the Glasgow rivalry. Celtic’s charity foundation kindly donated £10,000 to the Fernando cause and that show of generosity showed that football isn’t always everything in Scotland and that we can put things to one side and support the same cause. I also noticed quite a lot of Celtic fans on social media sending Ricksen there best wishes and that too was fabulous to see.

Now I don’t blame Celtic fans for constantly having a go at the Ibrox club, calling them ‘Zombies’ and ‘Sevco’ . These feelings have been passed down generations (again giving the fixture history in my opinion). Plus if the shoe was on the other foot how would Rangers fans react? In the exact same way.

It’s that shared bitter mentality that will always keep Rangers and Celtic linked in embrace with each other. Mention either side in Scotland or pretty much anywhere in the world and the other sides name will usually pop up in the same conversation like a bad smell or the dodgy member of your family that you can never distance yourself from.

At the end of the day enjoy the game as best you can. The atmosphere in Glasgow, especially in Hampden, will be volatile to the say the least and the football will be all blood, guts and thunder. Five minutes after kick-off and it will be as if the Old Firm fixture had never left us!

Jordy Clasie Could Be Classy Buy For Southampton

Jordy_Clasie

I first became aware of Jordy Clasie in 2011 when I was in Holland taking in a match between NAC Breda and Feyenoord. I gave the midfielder a special mention in that report for his tenacious play.

I also stated that his style reminded me of Rino Gattuso and every time I see him play those similarities quickly resurface in my head.

Now three and a bit years on, Jordy is now Feyenoord’s captain at the age of twenty-three.

His game has improved. He isn’t as raw as he was when I first saw him.

On the park he’s a warrior and always battling in the midfield engine room. Like Gattuso he gets in the faces of the opposition and chases them down or puts his foot in and wins possession. He covers a lot of ground with his tireless running; whether its tracking back with the opposing teams danger man or moving into space to receive the ball and play it on.

The midfielder is a typical Dutch ball winning central midfielder capable of both passing and tackling, he is just such a good technically sound footballer.

Against Ajax yesterday he led by example, never letting Ajax’s midfield over run him or his comrades. He also seemed to have more touches on the ball than anyone else, showing his ease at handling pressure and taking it off others in his team. He sits and marshals between his own box and the halfway line. With Ajax failing to exploit the wings, Clasie seemed to control the games tempo and stopped any real threat from gaining momentum.

Feyenoord went to Amsterdam and bossed the Dutch champions in there own backyard and it was all typified by Jordy Clasie’s performance.

In truth he doesn’t score many but alas that isn’t Jordy’s job. He’ll let others get the glory as he shores up the midfield. His job is priceless especially given the endeavour he uses to fulfil his duties.

So far the midfield general has made twenty-two appearances for the Rotterdam club and has provided a single goal and three assists. But again its his influence and his discipline in doing his job that inspire those around him that will have scouts talking.

The Eredivisie is a good market to purchase from as it’s usually affordable and has players with skill, determination and superb technical ability.

For me, clubs like Arsenal and Liverpool could do a lot better if they brought in Clasie to do all the hard-work and that would let the creative talents flourish at the Emirates or Anfield. At Man City, he could probably help their fortunes as their central midfield looks particularly vulnerable at the moment.

But would these clubs take a chance on him given his age and size? Possibly not.

If that is the case then Southampton would probably be the ideal next destination for the Dutch international.

Ronald Koeman knows the player well, having managed him at the De Kuip and handing him his Feyenoord debut. Koeman will trust him and it would make it easier for Clasie to settle in the Premier League if he was surrounded by familiar faces like Koeman, Graziano Pelle and coach Jan Kluitenberg.

His combative style could be ideal for the English game and his game could really rub up a few the wrong way. If the Saints could act quickly and snap him up this transfer window then their chances of staying in the top four would be greatly improved as his energy could revitalise the club.

Waiting until the summer could be too late for Southampton as others will keep an eye on Clasie. But a stumbling bock could be Jack Cork’s future at St Mary’s. Koeman has become frustrated with the Englishman’s stalling tactics over a new deal. If they could find a quick buyer for Cork and replace him with the Dutchman then they could be in the better position.

If Jordy does remain in Rotterdam for the remainder of this campaign then you can bet your bottom dollar that he’ll do all he can to try and gain Feyenoord a Champions League spot and that come the summer he’ll be one football’s most wanted men!

Animated Touchlines Don’t Really Matter

Dugout

SKY’s ‘Sunday Supplement’ has become a parody of itself. Every week you’ll see the same old faces talking the same old shit.

I tend to dip in and watch the odd fifteen minutes from time to time and watch journos discuss topics I’ve seen time and time before.

Today the bit that I caught was a discussion about Louis van Gaal and how he showed a bit of disrespect to the FA Cup, Cambridge Utd and the English game in general by not taking every opponent seriously and blaming everything under the sun for Man Utd’s disappointing result on Friday night.

The conversation then drifted along to comparisons between Van Gaal and David Moyes. Why is Van Gaal being given more slack from the press?

Each journalist had their say, his healthy winning CV seemed to be the biggest reason. No mention that United are actually in the ‘top four’ this season and some of their rivals haven’t been particularly great this term. But hey ho you can’t cover everything I suppose.

Henry Winter then brought up the point that no one seems to criticise Louis van Gaal’s style on the touchline, where he makes notes and shows little to no emotion or animation on the sidelines.

He points to Sven Goran Eriksson as an example of a manager hounded by the press stating that he didn’t get involved enough in the dugout.

But here’s the fact. The manager dancing up and down like a monkey or sitting there calmly like a child on their first day of school makes little difference with the players.

Don’t get me wrong instructions still need to be relayed to the players but you can do that in a mild, polite fashion through assistants and coaches.

Now I get why the press want to see emotive characters prowling the touchlines like Martin O’Neill, Alan Pardew and Neil Lennon. These coaches cause news stories and create great pictures. Sometimes these heart on their sleeves types let their emotions get the better of them and they boil over. For instance, Pardew has had various dust ups that inevitably created many headlines.

Van Gaal’s boring, somewhat languid style of coaching from the touchlines has worked in Holland, Germany, Spain and in international football. His style works. Now its extremely arrogant for any journalist to suggest Louis can’t succeed at a club like Man Utd unless he shows more fight from the bench, this man has won titles with Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

People and in particular newspaper hacks believe that certain things just can’t work in English football like certain tactics and characteristics. It’s farcical to think that the English game can’t adapt to different styles, or that successful coaches and players can’t compete in the UK because of their own style and beliefs.

We are talking about football here, it constantly changes. When you fail to change you get left behind.

But Louis van Gaal won’t win any matches or silverware at Manchester United if he starts roaming around his technical area and screaming at his players. It may set the fans off and it may please the press but Van Gaal doesn’t really care about doing that, he wants to create a successful squad capable of challenging on all levels.

As for asking for more animation and emotion, the pundits on ‘Sunday Supplement’ should actually heed their own advice and show that during the show and stop rehashing old topics with the same old faces in the same old monotone voices in an outdated set.

Looking Back At Romario!

Romario

 

When Ronaldo (The Brazilian and real one) retired I wrote a blog waxing lyrical about how great ‘El Fenomeno’ was. For me, he’s still the greatest player I’ve seen. His explosiveness and power were extraordinary, as were his goals and the amount he scored.

But I am a 1984 baby. My first World Cup that I can remember was 1990. Although I recall Roberto Baggio’s wonderful solo goal against Czechoslovakia, Toto Schillaci’s goal celebrations, Gazza’s tears and Claudio Caniggia being hacked down by an over enthusiastic Cameroonian defence, the finals didn’t engulf my whole world like USA 94 did four years later.

Brazil would light up that tournament. Their glorious yellow jerseys always caught the eye as did players like Dunga with his determination, Rai with his class and Bebeto with his intelligence.

But one man stood out more than others. That man was the cheeky, small, pacey striker known as Romario.

He came back into my mind when a story cropped up of him dating a nineteen year old US singer. He might now be forty-eight but the Brazilian was always a confident somewhat cocky lad. So the news that he was now dating a girl more than half his age and living life to the full isn’t much of a surprise.

Romario was the first Brazilian striker that I adored to watch.

As for his style of play, well he was a joy to view. He was slight but had lightning pace. He was also calm, composed and clinical in front of goal. He would love to terrorise defences by running at them and beyond them. Adept in finishing with either foot, he also had superb presence of mind to look up before receiving a pass just to scout where the keeper or opposing defenders were. Once in the box more often than not the clinical finisher would find the net.

He actually came to my attention the season before the World Cup in the States, when he was plying his trade at PSV Eindhoven. It was the dawn of the Champions League format that took over from the old European Cup knockout competition.

As a young Rangers fan, I kept my eye on this new European venture as the Gers were firmly in the mix competing for the famous trophy. PSV had to overturn a one goal deficit against AEK Athens to qualify for the group stages, Romario was the saviour when he grabbed a hat-trick in Holland and helped secure a 3-1 aggregate victory.

Rangers were drawn in Group A with eventual winners Marseille and while PSV were in a tough group with favourites AC Milan, FC Porto and IFK Goteborg.

PSV would pick up the wooden spoon in their group only managing to gain a single point against Porto in Portugal. But Romario would end the competition as its top scorer with an impressive seven goals, keeping him ahead of Marco van Basten and Alen Boksic.

All in, Romario would bag twenty European goals in thirty-five European matches.

Romario-Barca

After that European campaign with PSV, Romario would leave the Dutch side and move to Catalan giants Barcelona.

He was part of the Johan Cruyff revolution at Barca alongside greats like Andoni Zubizarreta, Albert Ferrer, Ronald Koeman, Miguel Nadal, Angel Josep Guardiola, Jose Mari Bakero, Guillermo Amor and Aitor Begirstain.

Romario would also form a lethal partnership with world-class striker Hristo Stoichkov. Like Romario, Stoichkov would light up USA 94 with his class and goals. Between them the two forwards would pick up fifty-six goals for Blaugrana during the 93-94 season.

It was almost a perfect debut season for the Brazilian striker. Barca would win the La Liga title beating Deportivo La Coruna in a play-off. He would end the Spanish season scoring a whopping thirty goals in just thirty two appearances and being rewarded with the Pichichi trophy, six goals ahead of his nearest rival Davor Suker. He would grab himself a hat-trick in the El Clasico against bitter rivals Real Madrid and thus writing himself into Barca folklore.

Barcelona would go all the way to the Champions League final that season but were humbled 4-0 by the terrific AC Milan side in Athens.

The small striker would then bag five goals in the World Cup and helped gain the most coveted trophy in football, it was the first time in twenty-four years that Seleção had won the cup. Romario’s late goal against Sweden was the vital one they needed to get to the final and he settled his nations nerves when he scored  his penalty in the final against Italy.

The legendary frontman would go on to win the Golden Ball (World Cup’s best player) and Fifa’s player of the year award in 1994.

Unfortunately the striker would never again grace a World Cup arena. In 1998, he failed to fully recover from an injury and so was left out of the squad. He wasn’t included for the 2002 squad after falling out with coach Luis Felipe Scolari and despite Romario’s desperate public apology and grovelling he wasn’t forgiven and had to watch Brazil lift their fifth World Cup at home.

When he ended his international career he had a super impressive goals to games record with fifty-five goals in seventy international games.

Maybe its fate that Romario would be last seen at a World Cup cradling the trophy he played such a huge part in securing.

Romario would spend six more months at the Nou Camp and was not nearly as successful.

He would be involved in an on-field bust up with Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone, Romario was suspended for five games after punching the Argentine. He would depart Barcelona midseason after a furious bust-up with Cruyff. These sort of actions and reactions were typical of Romario. He was always a hothead and never slow at offering his opinion.

He would leave Europe (returning very briefly for a spell with Valencia during 96 & 97) and returned home to Brazil.

Romario would play for four different Brazilian sides but would sign for them multiple times after constantly falling out with owners, coaches and teammates. He signed for Vasco da Gama four times (his last spell as player-coach), Fluminense twice and Flamengo three times. He would end his career at America-RJ making one substitute appearance for the club, fulfilling his fathers wishes.

Romario would often accept lucrative offers from wealthy new world clubs and moves to Miami (USA), Al-Saad (Qatar) and Adelaide (Australia) would certainly enhance his bank balance.

Throughout his return to Brazil things usually remained constant. He scored bundles of goals and caused controversial departures with his temper and constant feuding.

There are two feuds that really stand-out for me with Romario.

The first is with the ‘Animal’ Edmundo. As you can imagine given his nickname Edmundo was a bit of a wild-man. But initially the two strikers were party chums, who would enjoy playing foot-volleyball together on Rio’s beautiful beaches. But things turned sour when Edmundo took the hump when Romario opened up a bar that had a caricature of Edmundo sitting on a ball outside one of the toilets. Things became even more awkward between the pair when they were together at Vasco da Gama and they fought over who should take a penalty (a bit like Leighton Baines and Kevin Mirallas) it was decided that the club owners golden boy Romario should take it. He missed. Which prompted this response from the Animal…

“The King (owner) decided his Prince (Romario) should take it,”

A week later the ageing Romario would score in Vasco’s next fixture and took time out to take a pop back at Edmundo. He said…

“Now, everyone in the kingdom is happy — the King, the Prince and the court jester (Edmundo).”

But for all that, his biggest altercations and disagreements seem to happen with Brazilian footballing god Pele.

Now maybe Romario has small mans syndrome or just the confidence of a mafia don but he just never seems to shy away from the odd ding-dong.

Jealousy over Pele’s goals record and the fact he is hero worshipped seems to rub Romario up the wrong way. Pele is noted for scoring over 1,00o goals in his career and Romario has since made a similar claim. But it seems Romario and his research team have included all goals including ones in club friendlies, training, school, in the park and in his dreams!

In 2007 Romario stated that Pele was ‘a poet when he doesn’t speak’. That prompted Pele to call Romario ‘ignorant’. Obviously Romario wouldn’t sit back and let that go without responding and so he said ‘Aside from a poet, he’s also an imbecile’.

It’s a shame that past greats feel the need to court such bad feelings, it’s as if they can’t let go of the glorious pasts and this is a good way to keep getting newspaper columns.

Now Romario is your typical Brazilian football. A genius with the ball at his feet and with the goals in his sight. But the striker also loved having a party and a good time. He followed in the footsteps of Garrincha and was followed by Ronaldo, Adriano and Ronaldinho. His job was to score goals and to entertain but he lived for a night out!

For me he was always the appetiser before Ronaldo. He made me appreciate Brazilian strikers, while Ronaldo would make me love them!

Why La Liga Still Attracts The World’s Best Players

La Liga

People constantly debate which league is better.

La Liga, The English Premier League, Serie A or the Bundesliga?

Well its simple it’s La Liga.

Why?

Because the leagues biggest two sides in Spain attract the world’s best players like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Neymar. Before them they had the likes of Ronaldo, Diego Maradona, Ferenc Puskas, Ronaldinho, Romario, Hristo Stoichkov, David Beckham, Alfredo Di Stefano dawn either Barcelona or Real Madrid shirts.

In the summer both Barca and Real splashed out major cash, bringing in Luis Suarez and James Rodriguez. Suarez had been the best player in the EPL during the 2013/14 season, while James was the breakout, breathtaking star of last summers World Cup in Brazil.

Now the Catalan side need to serve a transfer ban during the next two transfer windows, giving the other sides in Europe a slight chance at gaining some of the world’s best talent. But Real will still target top players and will no doubt get the players that they target, like Manchester United’s David de Gea.

I could cheat you here and write a huge summary on why the planets biggest stars choose Spain over the rest but it’s quite simple.

MONEY – Both clubs have huge coffers that they can delve in to and money talks; whether its to entice clubs to sell or persuade players to join them with the promise of astronomical wages. Now these sides may be bankrolled by local authorities, a huge number of club members, sponsorship deals and/or TV money    but that doesn’t really matter what matters is that there always seems to be an endless pile of gold reserves in the banks available to them.

HISTORY – Just look at the names I mentioned earlier in the build up. Those are all legends in the footballing world, so the players of tomorrow like Norway’s Martin Odegaard will always want to be the next potential superstar to join the legendary lineage of Spain’s top two. Keeping those greats around directly helps influence signing the best young talent, up and coming Frenchman Raphael Varane was talked into signing for Real by his hero Zidane. The two clubs also have a long history of winning and being successful. No one has won as many European Cup/Champions League titles as Real’s ten triumphs (Barca have four). The two giants have fifty-four La Liga titles between them (Atletico Madrid ironically are currently the Spanish champs). They constantly qualify for Europe’s most elite competition.

EL CLASICO – The derby between the two great rivals has become a fixture that gets the world talking. It has a huge appeal for a worldwide audience with an estimated 400 million people taking in the game back in 2012. That exposure is huge and to share the field and TV screen with or against Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is extremely appealing. Would people really join Manchester United to play in the Manchester derby or move to Germany for Borussia Dortmund versus Bayern Munich?

WEATHER – Let’s face it would you choose between northern Italy, boring Germany or dull England over sunny Spain if everything else was equal? Nope I didn’t think so.

So there you have it, it’s simple Spain still has a huge edge over everyone else when claiming is has the best league and attracting the best players.

Fletcher Should Move On And Become A Star Again

Darren_Fletcher

Illness and fitness issues have stalled Darren Fletcher’s Manchester United career. Unfortunately Old Trafford isn’t the best place for convalescence, especially during this challenging time for the club.

The Scot has only managed forty-nine appearances for United in the last three and a half seasons due to ulcerative colitis.

At the minute he is watching from the sidelines with the likes of Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera, Daley Blind and Marouane Fellaini playing ahead of him.

In fairness to the Man Utd coach Louis van Gaal, the Scottish midfielder has looked out of sorts and off the pace whenever he’s started this campaign. He still needs to be edged in gently and at the moment United’s constant need for points has meant they can’t afford to give Fletcher minutes just to build up his fitness and confidence.

The midfielder has also lost his guaranteed starting spot with the Scottish national team as they challenge for a qualifying spot for Euro 2016. That said, a fully fit Fletcher would be a very welcome addition for boss Gordon Strachan and his ‘Tartan Army’ side.

Darren only has six months left on his contract with the ‘Red Devils’ and this January has seen the man from Dalkeith linked with moves away from Manchester.

West Ham, West Brom, Celtic and Spanish cracks Valencia have all been linked with either a loan or permanent switch for the sixty-six capped star.

I doubt the thirty year old will move back up to Scotland at this juncture. Yes Fletcher was a boyhood Celtic fan but he can command a bigger wage packet in England or La Liga. I’d also imagine that the thought of playing in the Scottish Premiership every week wouldn’t really excite the central midfielder.

So that leaves either one of the EPL sides or Valencia.

Well before I offer my opinion on who he should join, given the opportunity, I thought I should say that I probably wouldn’t currently sign a permanent contract to leave Old Trafford just yet. I’d be more eager to leave on a loan deal initially.

My reasoning?

Well as I’ve already stated, Fletcher has had a tough tine of it as of late. His illness can be inflamed when the sufferer is feeling particularly stressed. I believe moving football clubs would be quite a stressful experience. By moving for just six months in a bid to regain some belief and fitness would be the mind-set that I would go for at this moment in time. If all turns out well then you could then make the deal a full time thing or maybe even sign a new deal with Man Utd. Plus lets not forget that Fletcher has been a one club man so far in his career. To just up and leave his home mid season would be a huge step.

Ok so which club should he sign for?

Well for me it has to be Valencia.

Fletcher would be following a long line of great Scots who have departed the British isles in need of a warmer climate to help overcome illness. For example, ‘Treasure Island’ author Robert Louis Stevenson went to the French Riviera to recuperate after his health had failed him.

In relation to football, former Scotland captain Graeme Souness left a dominant Liverpool side in 1984 to join Italian club Sampdoria at the age of thirty-one. The Scots hardman enjoyed two seasons in Serie A and he picked up a Coppa Italia winners medal.

Those stories should inspire ‘Fletch’. The warmer climate should help with his illness, surely all those that have emigrated away from the UK had this sole reason to leave. Plus the Souness story shows that players leaving top English clubs can still learn and improve on foreign shores.

For me, the midfield man still has a lot to offer. At his peak he was a strong combative player who can sit in the engine room and help harry opposing players and win the ball back for his own side. He also offers up smart runs at set-pieces and has the canny knack of getting vital goals for his side.

His main strengths are fitness, intelligence and determination. The only component he’s currently missing from that set is fitness. A move to Valencia, currently sitting in fifth spot, could see a new spring in Fletcher’s step and hopefully he can once again rediscover his form of yesteryear when he was always key when Sir Alex Ferguson plotted victories against the toughest of rivals.

Also lets not forget that another Scotsman, assistant manager Ian Cathro, is also currently plying his trade at the Mestalla stadium on Spain’s south coast.

I really hope Darren Fletcher can find first-team football somewhere and once again become a strong stalwart in the middle of the park. If that turns out to be in Spain then all the better, us Scots love a sunny adventure.

Why Player Ratings Are Pointless

Rating

Credit where its due, at least the Daily Mail’s Neil Ashton knows that his player ratings are a complete waste of time. So when you look at his 7.5 out of ten mark for Santi Cazorla after the Spaniard’s sensational performance against Champions Manchester City on Sunday, you should remember that the author isn’t enthused by his task.

Yet people still overreact to every newspaper journo who disagrees with the reader when randomly judging a players performance.

The fact is, that every score is based on one persons instant perspective. The writer might be biased or just might not appreciate the same aspects of football you do.

They are not sent to games just to do these marks or have a set way of marking a player either. They also have the more important task of getting a match report off to their editors and then get reactions from the managers and players.

Now Cazorla was fantastic against City. He was wonderful with the ball at his feet and more often than not would keep it or pass it on to a teammate in a better position. He also showed fantastic vision even when he didn’t have the ball, looking around for dangerous opponents or for space to run into or eyeing up his next pass to a forward. Santi worked extremely hard all game and surprised many of us with his dogged tackling and winning possession back for his team. Then you add in his goal and his assist for Oliver Giroud, that surely deserves more than a 7 out of 10.

In fairness to Ashton, that’s me summing up Cazorla’s performance twenty-four hours after the event and with the benefit of TV highlights and analysis. I was also allowed to used more that two short sentences.

I think Ashton loses his argument slightly when stating Santi was up against a City’s ‘most mediocre midfield’ in recent times. The Spanish maestro can only play against the players that are in front of him, if they are hopeless then mark them down not the Arsenal man.

Any journalist I’ve asked about doing the ratings, usually respond by saying that they simply ‘hate it’. It’s a distraction and always seems to cause them issues with readers or abuse on Twitter. So even the thought of doing match ratings puts the writers in a negative mood.

The best paper or site for player ratings is France’s L’Equipe. They are extremely stingy with their marks and rarely go beyond seven and will hammer anyone who under performs with ones or twos. Its great to have a look at and just laugh at them.

The point is this, no one should take all these player ratings seriously. The writers often don’t want to do it and it’s all based on skewed opinions. The whole exercise is ‘blatant click-baiting’ from media websites desperate for more views and if that means the odd dodgy rating then all the better!

Still Goals Left For Everton This Season

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It’s fair to say that this season hasn’t really gone to plan for Everton and their boss Roberto Martinez.

The race for a ‘Top Four’ spot hasn’t been this fierce in a long time, yet the Toffee’s are actually closer to the relegation zone than they are to the Champions League places. Actually they are precariously close to the dreaded drop zone, only three points separate them and eighteenth placed Hull City.

Everton were also dumped out of the FA Cup after a heroic battle with West Ham United, one of the sides that are actually fighting for a ‘Top Four’ finish.

But the season isn’t a write off just yet.

Firstly, they need to secure Premier League survival. That shouldn’t be an extremely difficult task, given their vastly talented squad. But obviously they still need to pick up the points, teams such as Leeds and Newcastle weren’t too big to go down.

Players like Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas and Aiden McGeady need to step up and give the club more consistent top-class performances. Given his £28m fee and his form last year, Everton would have expected more than six goals from Belgian hitman Romelu Lukaku so far this term.

Really the next goal for the league would be a top ten finish. Getting past tenth could be a struggle as Swansea (ninth) are already eight points ahead of the Toffees but its a goal that could see the players go all out for points from now to the end of season. If the only goal is to survive then the season could end as soon as Everton reach thirty-eight points.

Another realistic but tough goal would be to go all out and try and win the Europa League. Now others will have a similar hope like; Inter Milan, Tottenham, Roma, Ajax, Sevilla and Merseyside rivals Liverpool. But given a bit of luck, there is no reason why this Evertonian side can’t go all the way to Warsaw this season.

Getting that piece of silverware would at least give the season some significance. It would give the clubs coffers a timely boosted and help bridge the gap of finishing higher up the Premier League. Lifting their first European trophy in thirty years would also give their fans something to shout about. Although they will still need to find the right formula to get results during the weekend as well as during the week.

For long-term planning Roberto Martinez needs to strength at the back.

Tim Howard had a fantastic World Cup with the US last summer but he hasn’t managed to carry that form on at club level this year. That said he has been missed as of late through injury and a more able back up needs to be brought in.

In the full-back areas they are fine but centrally they now appear to be weak. Out of the four main centre-backs only John Stones is under thirty. All four have suffered from plenty of injuries too.

At thirty-seven the time may be upon Sylvain Distin to take a back seat and let Martinez bring in a new first team partner for either Stones or Phil Jagielka. as your first back-up it’s imperative that you remain fit and that has never been the case with Antolin Alcaraz since he arrived at Goodison in 2013.

When Martinez was at Wigan, he struggled to get the balance right between a fluid frontline and a dodgy defence. That may be happening again at Everton if the Spaniard doesn’t change things this month or in the summer. He has to bring in new defensive blood to strengthen up the backline and not make the same mistakes he made at Wigan.

So as you can see, things need to be done at Everton, if they’re going to see some improvement to the dire first half of the season. But not all is lost. With some reinvigorating changes to personnel and a bit of fortune then maybe just maybe Everton can finish the season with a bang and have a brighter immediate future.